And So it Begins
December 7, 2008
For the last three years—2005, 2006 and 2007—December has meant one thing to me. Law School Finals. Not decking the halls. No holly jolly. Not a trace of yuletide cheer. And absolutely no cookie baking. Nope, just flashcards, anxiety, and exhaustion. So, when December crept up this year, I decided to make up for lost time, especially in the cookie department.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen, surrounded by a cloud of sugar and flour, apron cinched around my waist, spatula firmly in my palm. I’ve also been making room in the freezer (no easy task) as the batches mount. But, perhaps best of all, I’ve been poring over recipes.
So, I was delighted to (finally) get my December issue of Gourmet last week and see that the cover was splashed with shimmering sandwich cookies in an array of cotton candy-ish colors. I greedily flipped to Ruth Reichl’s editor’s column: one of my favorite parts of every issue. There, I was even more delighted to learn that my cover was one of eight different covers arriving in subscribers’ mailboxes this month. She called it a “virtual cookie pass,” and, well, I just loved the idea.
I also read in Reichl’s column that gourmet.com was featuring a slide show of the editors’ favorite cookie from each year the magazine has been in print. Still basking in the whole notion of the “virtual cookie pass” (I told you I’m making up for lost time; I have some holiday spirit to spare this year, it seems), I clicked through the slide show, my mental list of Cookies I Must Make This December growing at an alarming rate. But one cookie in particular caught my eye.
It was this cranberry-pistachio cookie, a bite-sized square featuring seasonal shades and resplendent in a sparkly cloak of sanding sugar. Even though I already have a pistachio and dried cherry cookie recipe in my back pocket, I couldn’t resist.
And I’m thanking my lucky mistletoe that I didn’t resist. Not only were these cookies both easy (much easier than the biscotti and all that twice-baking business) and flexible (allowing me, like any good icebox cookie would, to make the dough on Saturday and slice-and-bake the cookies on Sunday), but they were also delicious. They’re a classic, rich, buttery cookie, but they’re made interesting with bits of dried cherries (which I prefer to dried cranberries, but either would work), nuggets of pistachio and a background hint of orange. And the sanding sugar’s not just for looks, either; it lends the cookies a sweet crunch. Much, much tastier than, say, a civil procedure exam.
Pistachio-Cranberry Icebox Cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1/2 cup shelled pistachios (2 1/4 oz; not dyed red)
1/3 cup dried cranberries (1 1/4 oz) [I used dried cherries]
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup decorative sugar (preferably coarse) [I used Sugar in the Raw]
Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.
Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries. Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper as an aid, form each piece of dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a bar, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, at least 2 hours.
Slice and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper and press bars into sugar, coating well.
Cut each bar crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, rotating bar after cutting each slice to help keep square shape. (If dough gets too soft to slice, freeze bars briefly until firm.) Arrange cookies about 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.
Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 15 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies from parchment to racks using a slotted spatula and cool completely.